When a musical flops, it hurts, especially when it has a score that is fun and infectious, superseding a troubled book that doesn’t quite create the structure needed to make the whole piece come together. The 1958 Broadway musical Goldilocks was one of those ill-fated musicals, possessing a parade of delightful ditties sandwiched into a plot that just refused to work.
Goldilocks has a score by the composing team of Leroy Anderson (music), lyrics by Jean Kerr, Walter Kerr, and Joan Ford, and a book by Jean and Walter Kerr. Set during the silent film era, the musical about a retiring star of musical comedy named Maggie Harris who is ready to get out of show business and settle into marriage to a wealthy man. Unfortunately for Maggie, she has forgotten that she is under contract to appear in the film Frontier Woman, directed by Max Grady. Begrudgingly, she shows up to make the film, which evolves from a simple production into an epic about Ancient Egypt. The production timeline stretches out, delays, edits and rewrites keeping Maggie captive and constantly at odds with Grady, with whom she has a tempestuous working relationship. Of course, in true musical comedy fashion, Maggie and Max end up falling in love.
It’s wasn’t necessarily a horrible concept for a musical comedy, but Goldilocks just didn’t want to click. This may have had something to do with its setting of the silent film studio, something that has typically struggled on the musical stage (see also Mack & Mabel). The high energy lunacy and intimacy of the camera of silent films can be lost when presented at the audience distance of the musical stage. What also didn’t help was that the plot didn’t really progress toward anything, but instead went in circles, concentrating more on the show-within-a-show humor than taking the two lead characters on a compelling journey that made us want them to get together in the end.
Goldilocks does, however, have that score that I mentioned earlier, one that deserves repeated-listening. Leroy Anderson had a very short career writing for the musical theatre, focusing on orchestral and instrumental compositions, but his music for Goldilocksis tuneful, bright, and a perfect marriage of the material with melody. Lyricists Kerr, Kerr, and Ford incorporate some witty wordplay into the mix, often filling the songs with wisecracking one-liners that are particularly potent in the songs for and between the two leads. Standouts in the score include “Lazy Moon”, “Who’s Been Sitting In My Chair”, “The Beast In You”, and “Shall I Take My Heart and Go?”.
For the two leads, Goldilocks employed the talents of Elaine Stritch and Don Ameche, both capable comedic performers, and in the case of Stritch, a terrific musical comedy star. In supporting roles were Russell Nype, Margaret Hamilton, and Pat Stanley (Nype and Stanley would win Tony Awards for Best Featured Actor and Actress in a Musical, respectively). Walter Kerr directed the piece with choreography by Agnes de Mille. The show opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on October 11, 1958 and lasted for 161 performances. Critics were generally unimpressed with the show and the tepid to bad reviews led to the show’s early demise.